Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happiness Project: My Purpose

One of my fears in life is doctors. Well, not doctors so much as what they could tell me. Truth: I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. Why this is, I can only guess.

A few years ago, my father died of complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewey Body disease. Most people are familiar with Parkinson’s, mainly because of Michael J. Fox. However, not too many people are familiar with Lewey Body disease. In a nutshell, the two are related, though professionals don’t know if they go hand-in-hand or if one can cause the other. Either way, LBD is not a common condition. Its symptoms are similar to both PD and Alzheimer’s disease. My father had the classic PD symptoms—tremor; rigidity; bradykinesia; impaired balance; difficulty walking, talking and following simple commands. He was diagnosed in his late 40s, the age at which it is considered early on-set. Most people who are diagnosed are older, in their 70s or 80s. However, as the disease progressed, he started showing classic signs of LBD as well—dementia, cognitive issues, hallucinations (though, some of these resulted from harsh medication), falls, poor depth perception, etc. The list goes on. He died at a relatively young age.

It was bad enough that he was diagnosed with PD and had to alter his life—eventually he could no longer work and had to shut down his business. He also had to give up driving. He relied on my mother and my sister and me for just about everything, things you can’t imagine and might never think of. I know that bothered him a great deal. To lose your independence is a terrible thing. I have seen it first-hand, and it changed him.

I guess that’s what I fear the most—losing my independence. Having seen what I have seen, I fear being diagnosed with any medical condition. However, being diagnosed with a medical condition that would force me to give up my job, being able to drive (and where I live, it is pretty much a necessity), lose my independence for just about everything, well it terrifies me. I mean, it terrifies me. So, having had to deal with a small medical condition in the last several months, well it’s made me a little nutty. It’s nothing serious, nothing that will alter my life that much. But I can’t help myself—I seem to have a compulsive need to check out my symptoms online, which always seems to snowball into looking at other conditions and thinking I’ve got everything under the sun. I can tell you from my own history, don’t ever look up medical conditions online. General information is okay, but when you get into hearing other people’s horror stories, well it’s just terrible. If you think of all the things that are out there, it’s enough to make anyone nutty.

So what does this have to do with my happiness project?

At the beginning of her project, author Gretchen Rubin asks herself if the project is self-indulgent. She comes to the conclusion that it is not, and I have to agree with her one hundred percent. If I’m not happy—or if I’m stressed or anxious or crazed with the idea that I have some undiagnosed medical condition—it shows, and those around me notice (or are forced to notice by my constantly talking about it). This makes for stressful times and makes those around me unhappy, if only because they don’t know how to help me through my angst. So, to enhance my own happiness, to focus on the things that make me happy, only betters my life and the lives of those with whom I interact on a daily basis.

This thought brings to mind a recent post by Caribbean Princess. She recognizes that she is an important person and one who deserves her attention and love. And while some may find this realization egotistical, I completely understand and support where she is coming from. If you don’t know who you are or what you want in life or, above all, respect yourself, how can you possibly expect to interact effectively with other people? How can others respect you? One’s level of self-respect and/or happiness shows, whether or not we are aware of it. And I truly believe that others act on this, whether or not they are aware of it. So, while valid, Rubin’s concern about whether or not her happiness project is self-centered is moot. If she’s unhappy, it will show and definitely affect those around her in a negative way.

The same can be said for me. I have had a hard time dealing with all of the unknowns of my medical issues and still do, as it continues to go on. I have good days and bad days, both physically and emotionally. If I feel good physically, then I usually feel good emotionally. But I can also try and feel good emotionally even if I’m not feeling great physically. One way to do that is to focus on what makes me happy in life. It’s good to remind myself (on a daily basis) that while some things are not the way I would like them to be, there is plenty in my life to be thankful for. And like CP, I must love myself through this difficult time (and always). I cannot blame myself for not doing anything differently, which could have changed the course of the past several months, as I tend to do (a lot). There is no proof that it would have ended any other way. I must also remind myself that it’s okay to experience the bad. How else can I appreciate the good?

This is why I started my happiness project—to focus on the good and try to let go of the bad, as hard as that might be for someone who lives for control.

3 comments:

  1. You may want to read The Anxiety Disease by Sheehan, hypochondria is a symptom of this medical condition but I would suspect that given your experience with you father it may exacerbate it. It is frightening to know that things can all change in an instant, and the fear of death, serious illness and incapacitation would trouble anyone who has met it head on - and there is nothing we can do about these human conditions. It's hard for most people to wrap their brains around. In Thich Nhat Hanh's book No Fear, No Death there is a daily practice to help us accept and relieve our most basic fears, it also guides us to live freely and happily in the present. When we have these afflictive emotions in us all the time we can not be happy. Although I did not find the first half of the book particularly helpful, much of the second half was genius. May you love yourself just as you are. Good Luck on your journey to freedom.

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  2. Kanalt this is such a beautiful (and poignant) post. It must have been so difficult to watch your father suffer and lose his independence. I had a shock to my system when my grandmother died last year. I was not close to her as my mother had a strained relationship with her mum.However it really hit me that suddenly my parents were the oldest generation in my family and that they would not live forever. It is difficult at times as I live so far away from them but I do call them every week and chat.
    All your words are so true, life is about the good and the bad and there is no reason to blame yourself as hindsight is always 20:20. Love and be loved and it has to start with loving yourself :-)

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  3. Thank you both for your comments.

    Savannah - I'm going to look into those books. I definitely consider this my journey to freedom, because it does sometimes feel like I'm trapped in a hamster wheel and I cannot get off. Sometimes I'm able to, but others, not so much.

    CP - Sorry to hear about your grandmother. Since my father died, I lost 3 of my grandparents - my last grandparent is still living but also dealing with dementia. It really is mind-boggling how the generations are shifting. When last with my cousins I asked them, When did we become the parents/aunts/uncles?

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